Premises liability is a legal concept which basically maintains that most people enter a property with the expectation that they won’t be hurt. This places the onus on the property owner or a non-owner that pays rent towards a residence or has living and maintenance rights to that residence to provide a safe environment for any visitors they invite into or on the property.
The safe environment onus can also apply to people who were not invited but had cause to be on the property (mail carrier, delivery driver, etc). Examples where the owner or resident are liable would be someone falling through a rotted deck, a slip and fall in a building, or even being harmed while on a ride at an amusement park.
Courts are supposed to be consistent in the application of the law, but we all know that’s not entirely true. Some judges have a different view of the law, of responsibility, and what they will “accept” in their court. In California premises liability cases there will be some judges who are hard on property owners and some who are more moderate.
Sometimes an accident is just an accident and really is no one’s fault. There are certainly judges in California who adopt that attitude and will give no quarter in cases where they feel someone is trying to get money versus getting justice.
The courts will always look to better understand the resident or owner’s capability in regards to the environment (lessee or owner) when determining who is liable.
The person who is injured must be a visitor and not a trespasser for the case to have real merit. You have heard urban legends of burglars suing homeowners for injuries that occurred during the robbery, but we’ve never seen such a thing in all our time practicing the law. A trespasser has no implied or assumed promise of safety, and, in fact, has every expectation of harm being done to him or her for violation of property rights.
However, even within this area not all trespassers are treated as criminals and therefore it is better for the resident owner or lessor to establish warning signs about entering the property to avoid the potential for lawsuit if dangers exist. Invitees and social guests, however, have every expectation that they are entering a safe environment and if they are hurt while on the property have the right to file suit under premises liability laws.
An owner is expected to maintain the property in a reasonable manner, not necessarily excessive manner. If an injury occurs the court will look at if this is reasonable that the owner would have been able to prevent it through maintenance or other precautions.
For example, someone entering the property during a storm and a branch breaking off and hitting him or her. Even well-maintained trees can be damaged and break apart due to wind. However, if the owner could have prevented it (cleaning up oil on the sidewalk, maintaining the porch, etc) they may be liable for injuries done to invitees, guests, and other legal visitors.
When a premises liability case goes before the courts, the judge will also consider the injured party’s responsibility towards their own personal safety. If the individual was partially at fault then the amount that he or she could be awarded will be reduced. An example of this might be someone on an amusement park ride removing restraints and standing up when the signs say to not do so and the restraints are a part of the ride.
This is a complicated area of law and one best left for a personal consultation with an attorney. Those interested in obtaining a free consultation from a Timothy J. Ryan & Associates legal professional can call (800) 838-6644.
Timothy J. Ryan & Associates has assisted thousands of individuals throughout California, most often within Orange County, for over 34 years. Their office is located at Beach and Warner and their firm has helped to obtain $1 billion on behalf of their clients.
Attorney Tim Ryan, author of "The Personal Injury Victim's Bible", has assisted thousands of injury victims, obtaining more than $1 billion for his clients collectively since 1981.
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